Out and About (Sort of): Academic Scam and Shame by Howard Freedlander

A week ago at a pleasant lunch in Washington, DC with a college friend, I learned from him about the breaking news regarding admissions bribery at some of our nation’s top universities. Included in this revelation was rampant cheating in college entrance exams and professional help in essay-writing.

My initial reaction was denial, followed by disgust.

Then, last Thursday, a participant at a meeting expressed a decided lack of surprise about the allegations concerning admissions and counseling misbehavior. I was flabbergasted at this response, characterizing it as blatantly cynical.

Another friend ascribed the bribery and manipulation of the admission process to cultural decay pervading our country. Discussion of this analysis warrants another column. It’s worth mentioning, however.

I suspect my two reactions wreaked of naivety. I’ve been living under a rock, I guess. Perhaps I’ve ignored the power of money and influence. That’s not entirely true, however, as I’ve chided and defended myself in the same paragraph.

Here’s what I’ve learned about this shameful episode now besmirching elite schools such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and University of Southern California. An unscrupulous college adviser in Boston, capitalizing on the incessant ambition of parents and their children to gain admission to prestigious universities and the perpetual fundraising by nearly all institutions of higher learning, gamed the system to his economic advantage. Now he faces a possible jail sentence.

What I’ve learned over the years as a volunteer fundraiser and friend-raiser for my university is the transactional attitude of many, but certainly not all well-heeled alumni and parents.

The faulty, unsavory logic goes like this: if colleges and universities are constantly seeking incredibly large amounts of money to preserve their fiscal stability, then it only seems reasonable to engage in a quid pro quo. So this errant thinking then prompts parents and alumni to offer huge sums of money for a child’s admission, as we learned the past week.

I despise this mindset. My alma mater will not accept a contribution from a parent whose child is amidst the application process; if this parent is an alumnus and large donor, the school will not accept a donation until the admissions process is completed.

Stories are legendary about longtime givers ceasing their generosity when their child is rejected. I can provide chapter and verse about this common response. I have listened to my share of anger. While I understand that rejection of a child (for anything) is searingly painful for a loving parent, I sympathize only to a small degree.

In the current controversy, the unethical college counselor arranged for someone to take exams for his clients’ children. I’m not sure how that’s done, but I won’t quibble, He arranged for young people to be placed on an athletic coach’s preferred list of applicants—even when the young person didn’t play that sport. The former tennis coach at Georgetown University allegedly engaged in this sordid behavior; his compensation was exceedingly ample.

This mess is abhorrent. No one wins.

Parents able to afford bribes, a college guidance counselor and athletic coaches willing to accept huge sums of money and the young person accepted on false premises—they all have lost their moral compass. I wonder, however, if the participants would agree. They might just bemoan the fact they got caught and say to themselves that they were simply playing the game affordable to them.

While my ire and revulsion are evident, I must admit some reluctance to accept the prevalent condemnation of wealthy people who have provided extraordinary educational and travel opportunities to their children– therefore giving them a distinct advantage over low-income applicants having had exposure to subjects embedded in entrance exams questions and in being fortunate to have impressive resumes.

I have yet to meet parents, regardless of their socioeconomic status, who haven’t extended themselves to a reasonable degree to pay for enrichment opportunities for their children. It’s human nature.

At the university that I attended, 13 percent of recent freshman classes have comprised first-generation, low-income individuals whose parents, I presume, pushed them to apply to this highly regarded school. I would hazard to say that parents of legacy applicants (children of alumni) are screaming at this new reality and possibly withdrawing their financial support.

I wanted to write another column this week. But I couldn’t ignore the crisis of conscience enveloping several major universities. It’s repugnant. It’s an example of money-driven misbehavior that engenders distrust of long-admired schools of higher learning.

Meanwhile, cynicism continues to grow. A transactional approach to college admissions seems distastefully pervasive. Integrity appears elusive.

Maybe it’s beneficial that the college guidance and admission process undergoes examination. My guess is that admission offices and standards of behavior—along with stricter oversight of college guidance advisers—will face intense scrutiny.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.


All Bets Off on Beto by J.E. Dean

What’s not to like about the next John F. Kennedy? After admittedly not following Beto’s every move in his unsuccessful but widely acclaimed race for Senate against Ted Cruz, I was interested in learning more about the “the most charismatic” candidate in the Democratic presidential race.  The more I learned, the more I see that interest in Beto reflects much of what is wrong with US electoral politics.

First, it is legitimate to wonder if anyone would take Beto seriously if he looked like, say, Mitch McConnell or Hillary Clinton.  Second, I found that the more I learned about him, the more skeptical I became.

Here’s why. While some, especially those much younger than I, may be intrigued by a “world-class hacker” running for President, I wonder what those actions say about Beto’s respect for law, or his true character.  Is it O.K. that he routinely hacked his way to free long-distance phone calls and expropriated “cracked” video games to avoid paying for them? Or that he did both those actions while having the wherewithal to pay his own way. Doesn’t such behavior suggest that Beto as President might be equally as comfortable in breaking rules (read laws) to further his own agenda?

And what exactly is his agenda?   When I reflect on Beto, I immediately think of his arms flapping up and down (and am ashamed because this innocent characteristic is how Trump chose to shame him), but then I realized I wasn’t aware of any of his own positions other than opening the borders, “Medicare for All” (minus any details about how to pay for it), and a general endorsement of “the Green Deal.”  Then I remembered his authorship of “violent fantasies” during his youth—the opus written under the pen name Psychedelic Warlord.  I wonder where reality starts and ends with this guy.

We now read about the “magic” of a Biden-Beto ticket (what happened to the far more qualified women candidates?) and that Beto is the key to the Generation X vote. Maybe the party would be just as well served with Justin Bieber (if he weren’t a Canadian) or a recent winner of American Idol. Seriously haven’t we learned anything from our previous mistakes?

Running the US as President should be seen as something other than the ultimate prize.  Sound and sane candidates are humbled by the responsibilities entailed. Is it possible that the right candidate will see running for President as a call to duty rather than an opportunity for a fabulous adventure?

Until I see signs of substance and maturity, Beto is not my man.  

J.E. Dean is a retired Washington, D.C. attorney and a current resident of Oxford, Maryland



Getting In Shape by George Merrill

Sometimes a waterspout is more than just a waterspout.

Years ago, I saw a waterspout. I’d not seen one before. I was on a sailboat on Long Island Sound. I watched until the waterspout was finally spent. The sight was mesmerizing.

I’d been sailing on the Connecticut side of the Sound; the waterspout appeared near the Long Island shore. The cloud hung low above the horizon. Below the cloud, the spout undulated as hoses will when first filled with water. It slowly and deliberately moved this way and that until finally it stabilized. The display lasted about three minutes. The spout was gradually assumed into the cloud.

Vortices, whether tornadoes, water spouts, dust devils or the whirlpools of descending water, have always excited the human imagination. The fascination may be associated with something as sublime as God speaking to Job in a whirlwind or Jacob’s ladder that’s often pictured as a spiral staircase.

Witnessing vortex action can be a negative one, like the commonplace fear that the whirlpools from a draining bathtub or toilet often produce in children. These childish fears were regarded universal enough that Mr. Rogers, in one of his neighborhood series, addressed the issue and reassured children that they would always be safe from harm and never be drawn down and away with waste water. Perhaps the fear is inspired by the power a whirlpool demonstrates. It has the capacity to suck anything down and make it irretrievable – not unlike the tornado that adults fear can flatten and then draw almost anything up and toss it away.

The fascination with the activity of vortexes is found in documents dating from ancient times among the Aztecs, the Greeks and Romans, the Arab and Asian cultures and into the twenty-first century here in the west. The nature of various kinds of vortexes was understood to reveal the basic structure and function of the universe. They were frequently regarded as divine manifestations. The character of the vortex appeals to something deep and primal in the human soul.

Eliot Weinberger, in his book, An Elemental Thing, explores the cultural myths that have appeared at different times and places worldwide. What is striking in his research is how he discovers close similarities in the vortex images that appear in widely disparate mythic creation traditions. They may represent creation, destruction, divine activity or the workings of our minds.

Some historic instances include:

In 500 BC, the Taoist tradition held that the “the universe produced ‘chi,’ the life-giving breath, and it was like a whirlpool” Another example; the Buddhists describe their concept of Nirvana as “eternal peace in the vortex of evolution.”

In 203 AD Plotinus, a Roman general believed; “the enlightened soul returns to its origin, which is a whirlpool,” and in 1920, poet T.S. Eliot wrote more ominously about vortices: “Vortex is the end of time.”

It seems that images portraying vortices occupy a place in our primitive consciousness; what Carl Jung described as our “archetypal consciousness.” These are archaic patterns and images that derive from our collective unconscious by virtue of our being members of the same human race.

I unwittingly discovered I carried similar archaic patterns in my own unconscious. It revealed itself as I was trying to give a shape to formlessness.

Some years ago, I presented a photographic exhibit at the Academy Art Museum in Easton. The theme was the Genesis epic of creation. I produced photographs to illustrate selected texts describing various acts of creation. The first image presented me with a significant challenge.

“Now the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”

Something without shape and void does not lend itself to being photographed. What could I do with that?

I decided to fabricate my own negative. I did this by putting printer’s ink on a glass plate. I let my imagination go wild and made fanciful finger paintings, hoping that something would take a shape that would in some metaphoric way suggest the shapeless and barren universe that preceded the first act of creation.

The glass plate would serve as my negative which I would then place in an enlarger to make positive prints from it.

The last time I’d done anything like this was finger painting with my children when we were stuck indoors on a rainy day. We’d put blobs of paint on paper and then just let ‘er rip, smearing colors everywhere, guided only by high spirits and atavistic impulses. Actually, it was great fun for all of us, real play without any rules or limits except being careful not to get any paint on the rug. The table was big enough to accommodate that constraint.

My children were not of an age to artistically render recognizable objects or figures of any kind. What they produced were pure abstractions, some of which were delightful albeit inscrutable. The pleasure they felt I would guess was as much tactile as it was aesthetic, and the surprise that their five fingers could indeed create something out of nothing excited their imaginations.

In creating glass negatives, I followed my instincts, as much as my adult needs for control would allow me, and came up with some bizarre and goofy looking messes. Still, as much as I was having fun with this, I had an agenda to finally to come up with some kind of image – a paradoxical one in the sense that a black and white image would suggest its very opposite, no image, no shape, no form. I was trying to give shape to the shapeless.

I had my work cut out for me.

Finally, I came up with a glass negative that printed the image accompanying this essay. It was after many attempts. I thought I saw in this image, something (almost) of what I was reaching for, something that was just shy of taking form.

Only a few weeks ago, after I’d read Eliot Weinberger’s essay on the vortex, I was surprised to find that the image I had settled on as the ‘void,’ was in fact the shape of a primal vortex similar to those appearing in so many cultural creation myths. The character of vortices in these cultures is that they represented beginnings and endings, life and death.

What a marvelous thought to ponder; that buried deep within my unconscious – in yours and mine both – lies hidden the blueprint of our very beginnings.

Letter to Editor: Tragedy Of The Soft Shell And Razor Clam

I read Tragedy of the Commons many times in my undergraduate career. We are all familiar with the premise: overuse of a common resource for personal benefit ultimately eliminates that resource, spoiling it for everyone. To ensure that our common resources do not become depleted in Maryland or the Chesapeake Bay, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) works to “preserve, protect, restore, and enhance our environment for this and future generations.” Specifically, DNR strives to create balance between our economy and our environment, which we at ShoreRivers commend and support.

Consider the eastern oyster, for example, a filter feeder that improves water quality and habitat, and is an iconic menu item for locals and tourists alike. A DNR Fishery Management Plan is needed for this species to ensure that we continue to see both ecological and economic benefits for generations to come. This is an example of a state agency regulating a natural resource so that all can benefit.

Two lesser known bivalve species in the Bay provide similar ecological value. Soft shell clams and razor clams filter the same volume of gallons in one day as the oyster. Numerous studies have found that these species once played an integral role in the Chesapeake’s food web, as a primary food source for multiple predators. Unfortunately, also similar to the eastern oyster, these clam species are on the brink of extinction in the Chesapeake Bay.

The soft shell clam fishery has been “boom and bust” since the invention of the hydraulic dredge in the 1950’s. “Boom” times with high harvest rates and high numbers of clamming licenses are followed by “bust” times with significant drops in clam populations, which result in lower harvest rates and fewer licenses.

Considering the high ecological value these species provide and their current low populations, ShoreRivers believes they are in need of conservation. Without a DNR Fishery Management Plan, there is currently no balance between the economic and ecological value of these clams. To ensure this balance is established and that there are clams in our Maryland waterways in the future, ShoreRivers fought for a Fishery Management Plan for the clam fishery during the 2019 Maryland Legislative General Assembly. This bill would have initiated relatively low-cost studies of current clam populations and habitats, impacts to the population from climate change, and economic and ecological values of clams.

Unfortunately, the Department of Natural Resources was not supportive of this bill and was unwilling to compromise. DNR’s main argument was that these species are too transient and difficult to study. However, considering that there have been studies of these species in the past (although none that inform regulation), and the fact that these species continue to be harvested, we feel that this decision clearly states that DNR is supportive of the economic value of these species, more so than the ecological value. If we are unable to study a species, consider the ecological value, or make regulation recommendations that promote sustainability, then we should not have that commercial fishery.

Yes, we are all familiar with the Tragedy of the Commons, but it seems as though our current administration is choosing to ignore the warning signs of resource depletion. To be clear, I am in support of sustainable fisheries – fisheries that provide economic value, support our local watermen, and ensure that species continue to provide ecological benefits to our ecosystems.

However, if, according to DNR, it is not possible to find balance between economy and ecology, then which side should we choose? What repercussions might we see if we lose the soft shell and razor clams? As Miles-Wye Riverkeeper, I have the privilege of giving a voice to the river; I have no doubt the river would choose the side of ecological benefits.

Elle Bassett
Miles-Wye Riverkeeper

Report from Annapolis – Part 5 by Laura Price

Another week of legislative committee brought fewer bills to consider, as just about everything has already been introduced.  We are winding down taking positions on various pieces of legislation.  But this week brought a biggie!  The Kirwan “Blueprint” Bill – SB1030/HB1413.

By now you have probably already heard of the “Kirwan Commission” (Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Maryland) and the 2+ year study on completely overhauling education in the State of Maryland.  There were 25 members appointed to the commission and five main areas were studied in separate workgroups:

Early childhood education (Universal Pre-K), High-quality teachers and leaders (Raising teacher pay), College and career readiness pathways (CTE), More resources for at-risk students and Governance/Accountability.

While there has been much debate on the policies and what this may or may not do for the outcomes on the education of our children, what we do need to recognize and also discuss is the cost of implementing these policies.  The price tag is estimated to be nearly $4 billion dollars over 10 years, but most of it coming in the first 3 years.

As I mentioned in my first report last month, “we are talking about massive tax increases, whether on the state side or mandating it on the county side.”  There is currently no revenue source to pay for all of these initiatives, either at the State or Local level.  Originally, when formed, the commission was supposed to look at the funding formulas and what was never addressed during the two-year study, was the “split” between the counties and the state.

Each county has a different “wealth formula” for how much state aid goes to education.  The formula basically puts 2/3 of the weight on a county’s assessable property base and 1/3 on the household income.  In Talbot county’s case, we lose out on state money and pay 75% of the total Board of Education budget.  We have a skewed assessable base, because of some high value property.  Meanwhile, our average household income is 20% below the state average.  I have been trying to get that message out, especially to the state, that it unfairly penalizes Talbot (and some other counties with similar circumstances) because our people who are actually out earning an income, have less of an ability to pay.  Many of our people, with a higher property value, either live elsewhere more than 6 months and a day, or are retired and don’t pay income tax.  We also have a homestead tax credit that keeps our property tax revenues low, based on the original selling price of your home and not it’s current value, which is the number the state uses in the formula.  Not to mention our revenue cap which severely hampers our county.

This week, a “Kirwan” bill was introduced and there wasn’t even supposed to be one this year, other than about $3 million in funding towards Pre-K.  This one has a price tag of about $1 billion over the next two years.  The hearing was scheduled with only 2 days notice.  MACo had to analyze the 29-page bill in a day and bring a recommendation to the legislative committee.  It was a tricky position to be in and here’s why.

This bill does not “require” any county funds in order to be able to receive state money.  It creates a grant of $23 million for areas with at-risk students and another grant of $137.5 million for students with disabilities.  The third area is a grant of $75 million for teacher salary increases.  This grant does not require a county to participate, but if they want to receive the funds, they must raise teacher salaries by at least 3% in our 2020 budget.

The other good thing is this bill, is that the counties will receive “credit” for anything we do above Maintenance of Effort (MOE).  That was a big concern and many counties were apprehensive about funding above MOE this year, wondering whether new Kirwan funding would be on top of a new base.  So, we can in essence, make a “down payment” this year and not be penalized next year.

On this bill, MACo did come out with a position of support because there is no requirement from the county.  I joined the MACo panel in delivering testimony to the joint Senate committees of Budget & Tax and Education, Health & Environment and stated:

My county has been willing to invest in education.  Over the last several years, we have increased our property tax rates by 30%, all of it for education.  We exceeded our citizen-imposed tax cap to do so and that was not an easy decision.  We also put a ballot initiative, which I wrote, in front of our voters this past election to raise our revenue cap to help with increased funding for all of county government.

The Commission, and the legislature, already has more work to do – the formulas that distribute state funding really need a reality check. We have counties where the tax base does not reflect people’s ability to pay taxes today. We know that’s still on the “to do” list… that’s an important part of the path ahead. Several counties have an average household income far below the state average, yet they are considered wealthy because of a skewed assessable base.”

The reality is, this is the “carrot” before the “stick.”  We know the massiveness of what is to come next year.  Counties have huge concerns about the price tag and how much will be “mandated” to be the county share, with no alternative but immense tax increases to pay for it.  MACo has been saying for two years that the “formula” needs to be sorted out before we can take a position on the main bill that will come next year.  This is a different bill and it is all state funded. However, we know that will change next year and we need to stay actively engaged.

Laura Price is on the Executive Board of Directors of MACo, the legislative liaison and member of the Talbot County Council.


This is US by Angela Rieck

I believe that by winning the birth lottery I was given the gift of growing up in this country.  Because my great grandfather was the right color, the right religion and the right nationality, he was allowed to immigrate in the late 19th century. His fortune became mine, as I was given the opportunity to be what I wanted to be (sexual harassment aside) through education.

Todays undocumented workers have not received that same gift—to be born here.  Due to our quirky immigration strategy, many are not allowed to immigrate legally, but come here to find work, raise their children and contribute to our society.

If you have read my past columns you know that most of us form opinions and then corral the facts to support our beliefs.  This is one such instance, I believe in immigration, but I would like to present both sets of facts in hopes of demonstrating that this belief is justified.

Before I review the “good” and “inconvenient” facts, let me remind everyone that all immigrant data is speculative.  As statisticians, we know how to coax the data to support our beliefs.  For that reason, I have selected conservative sources (since I am liberal) with credentials for reporting accurate data.  I have avoided data from FAIRUS, Breitbart and other biased sources. I also excluded a report by the Heritage foundation, since its methodology has been sharply criticized by experts from both sides of the debate.

First, the inconvenient facts, immigration is not without cost. It is estimated that health care costs can be as high as $18.5B per year (Forbes), while most estimates put the cost at $11B per year. These costs include emergency room care for uninsured workers, births, and health care to US citizens born to undocumented workers.  

It is estimated that six percent of US births were to undocumented workers (Pew Research Center, 2016 estimates).  The 14th amendment, which guarantees citizenship to anyone born in America is a likely incentive, however, it is impossible to assess its impact.  I am not going to get into an argument on the merits of the 14th amendment, but if I were young and undocumented, I would want my children to be citizens of this amazing country.

Education is the largest cost for state and local governments.  Due to a Supreme Court ruling (Plyer v. Doe, 1982) all children, regardless of immigration status, must be provided with a public education.  Undocumented workers are also eligible for state Head Start programs. Education costs are estimated at $11-$30B annually (note the wide range, which shows how speculative the data are).

The “good” facts are compelling.  Economists agree that immigration (both documented and undocumented) is an overall net positive to our economy (George W Bush Institute, 2016). Their data estimates that immigration increases the productive capacity of the economy and raises the GDP. Called the “immigration surplus,” its value is estimated at $36 to $72 billion per year (which offsets the costs listed above). In addition to the immigration surplus, undocumented workers help the economy by working in industries and locations where there is a need for workers.  

The Congressional Budget Office concluded in 2007 that over the long term (but not in the short term), tax revenues collected from undocumented workers (including income tax, sales tax, property tax through rents, tolls, etc.) exceed the cost of services provided to them.

A national panel of economists concluded in 2016 that due to cheaper labor, the average consumer reaps the reward of undocumented workers through lower food costs, construction and services. Its value is estimated to be in the billions.

Undocumented workers are ineligible for most federal benefit programs, including social security, even though it is estimated that 50-75% of them pay taxes and contribute to social security (Congressional Budget Office, 2007).  Legal immigrants are entitled to programs after 5 years but use the benefits at a lower rate than native born American citizens (Fact Sheet: Immigrants and Public Benefits, National Immigration Forum, 2018).

Most importantly, two studies conducted separately by states with high immigration rates (Arizona and Florida) concluded there is a net gain for undocumented workers when comparing costs (such as education) to their tax payments.

While eyebrows may be raised about the costs of education, it is undeniably a benefit to our nation.

The education benefit came into focus for me about 7 years ago, as I sat next to my daughter’s former babysitter. She had illegally immigrated to escape poverty and violence in war-torn El Salvador and took advantage of the 1986 amnesty law to become a citizen. That evening, she was watching her granddaughter graduate from High School. Clutching mylar balloons and the best bouquet of flowers that she could afford, she blinked back tears of joy for the granddaughter for whom she had sacrificed so much.  

Immediately I was transported to a one room, dank, rustic, cold building, seated next to my great grandparents, as they watched my grandfather graduate from High School. Their weary, lined, hard faces remained stoic while mumbling “sehr gut”. I imagined my great grandparents believing in this moment that all of their sacrifice, prejudicial treatment, and struggles in a harsh farming life were for this moment.  Their son would go on to graduate from college, become a CPA and father 9 children, all of whom attended college. His 30 grandchildren would become benefactors, executives, Navy pilots, teachers, lawyers, PhDs, builders, computer scientists, accountants.

This babysitter’s granddaughter would go on to become the first member of her family to graduate from college. She became a teacher.

Ignoring our deplorable history of slavery, our history of immigration is the best of our history. This is US.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.


Letter to Editor: Reds and Blues Need to Talk to Each Other

We are two residents of Talbot County, a Republican and a Democrat, in search of other reds and blues who want to talk with folks of different political opinions.

While our views differ on some issues, the two of us share a concern about the current extreme polarization in our country and have both signed on as volunteers with Better Angels. Better Angels is a national organization formed in 2016 after the Presidential election by folks who felt that the divide between red and blue Americans had become so severe that we were headed for civic breakdown. In response, they have developed a series of facilitated workshops organized by citizens in their own communities including their signature Red-Blue session which we’re bringing to Easton this spring.

Neither of us is out to change anyone’s minds. We had the opportunity to observe a recent Red-Blue Workshop in D.C. After hours of discussion, those who came as conservative, libertarian, Republican citizens left the same. Likewise with the liberal, progressive, Democratic participants. What took place instead was that people listened to one another without trying to correct, coerce or argue the virtue of their views.

To date, well over 300 such workshops have taken place around the U.S. Participant feedback shows they’re helping people on both sides decrease stereotyped thinking and develop more trust in our hope for the common good. From Fox News to CNN along with other national and local media outlets, reports on the Red-Blue workshop have been supportive, often with a common theme: there’s such a need for this.

In Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address in 1861, with the nation on the brink of civil war, he urged that Americans hold onto their common bonds and appealed to the ‘better angels of our nature.’ His words resonate now more than ever when talking about politics seems almost taboo.  Wouldn’t it be nice to discover we’re not really as different as we’ve been told we are?

If you are interested in being part of this civic experiment, visit the Better Angels website or contact us. The workshop format requires an equal number of red and blue participants. Community members can also take part as observers. We hope our April 6, 2019 event in Easton will be the first of many such conversations on the Eastern Shore.

Pat Ingram, Oxford
Nancy Andrew, Easton

Are Democrat Leaders Nuts? By Al Sikes

Striping away any veneer that might still cling, politics is now overwhelmed by emotion, completely.

The national government is in charge of over $4 Trillion dollars (much of it funded by debt) in annual expenditures and many services that touch our lives daily. It is also in charge of our foreign relations and national security. The President is Commander-In-Chief.

There are a few challenges. They relate both too big strategic questions and day-to-day tactical ones. On any given day the White House will engage questions related to budgets, monetary policy, trade, North Korea, Venezuela and on and on.

Now, as I have made clear, I am not a Donald Trump fan. But I am a fan of America and what it is and can be. This latter affection makes me mad at today’s cage fight.

We have one President at a time. And this President has now been stripped down to bare wood. There is no veneer. There is nothing that even toadies like Sean Hannity can do to make the President look other than as he is. But, and this startles especially Democrats, he continues to have around 40% of the nation’s citizens support. His supporters wanted a President who was prepared to “give them hell,” almost regardless of the tactics.

The President is being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and prosecutors at the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. And in the past two years, Trump has been investigated by committees of the House and Senate.

Now various Democrat-led committees in the newly organized House of Representatives have decided that he has not been or being sufficiently investigated. Politico’s headline summed up what is going on:  “House Democrats prepare fusillade of Trump investigations.”

People know, voters know, Donald Trump. But, he remains the nation’s President. Putting the nation’s President in a further swirl of charges, subpoenas, hearings, and all the mechanisms of trial by fire will ill-serve America.

Make sure the investigations that are underway are not impeded. In the meantime, make the case for turning out Trump in November of 2020. The first primary to choose the Democratic nominee for President is less than a year away. If more independent voters see the House investigations as an extension of 2020 politics, the Democrat Party’s chance of winning goes down.

Let me offer what I am sure will be a second unwelcome recommendation. Democrat legislative leaders should begin hearings on various calls for a Green New Deal and Medicare for All. Such hearings would do their Party a favor. They would be led by persons not running for President and would provide detail and argumentation about the way forward.

At present, there is a growing caucus attempting to convert their Party into the Utopian Party. The leaders, who have been elected, represent a minuscule population—Vermont and three or four Congressional districts. A Utopian Party candidate will not win.

Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, who is assessing an independent run, knows that and is waiting in the wings. Yet, the hard left of the Democrat Party seems not to want anybody with moderate views or any persons who at some point in the past have uttered or written what is now deemed unacceptable. Joe Biden, take notice.

It should be remembered that we are all human. And, a review of history chronicles the failure of utopianism, often in a conflagration. Similarly, a look back saddens us all as we note how few people transcended the culture of their time. It would be ironic indeed if the Democratic Party purged electable candidates because they erred in the past. Remember, millions of voters in 2016 were willing to vote for the President, notwithstanding a parade of regrettable statements and actions.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

Letter to Editor: Sanctuaries are not Working, Why Make Them Permanent?

I am writing this letter in response to Matt Pluta’s Letter to the Editor. First, I want to thank the Talbot County Council for their support. It is a comfort to know that in our time of need they take action. When 50% of Talbot & Dorchester County’s productive oyster bars were taken to create 3 tributary size sanctuaries our counties experienced a great loss economically, socially, and, yes, environmentally. As president of Talbot Watermen’s Association, member of Oyster Advisory Commission, member of Oyster Futures, Chairperson of the Talbot County Oyster Shell Committee, and past member of Choptank Trib Team (now known as ShoreRivers). I would like to share some of the scientific data that shows that Harris Creek Sanctuary is not performing as well as Public Oyster Harvest Areas and why sanctuaries success is still unproven.

Since I live on Tilghman, I have watched every phase of the reef construction in Harris Creek including many years of the planting of Spat on Shell (SOS) until its supposed completion in 2016. I say supposed because, in 2017, I started to see more plantings of SOS, and a total of 31 of the 64 reefs were replanted. See attached Harris Creek Reseeded in 2017.

At an Oyster Advisory Commission (OAC) meeting, I brought up the question of why a project that was announced to be completed the year before would need such extensive reseeding. The response was that the sanctuary restoration plan allowed for additional plantings if bars did not meet certain metrics. In other words, as the oysters die from disease or old age, new oysters are planted at taxpayer’s expense. How convenient that the plan was written with safeguards so that it would not fail! I thought that, once completed, the reefs would sustain themselves through natural reproduction and, according to the disproven computer model created by UMCES, this spat would spread outside of Harris Creek to harvest areas.

Low spatfall is another factor. Spatfall is clearly not occurring as evidence from the current 2017 Fall Survey (a survey of oyster bars done around the state for the past 60 years by the DNR). See Table 2 – Spat pg. 32. In Harris Creek, the number of spat per bushel is 55, slightly above the 33 year average 40.3 (see notation #1), but just outside of Harris creek the number per bushel is only 13 which is a lot lower than that bars 33 year average of 67.2 (see notation #2). Also noted is that both spat counts are well below that of Broad Creek which is 205 per bushel, almost double the 33 year average of 118.1 (notation #3), and let’s remember this is a creek that we harvest and have not planted over 2 billion SOS and spent 32 million dollar in taxpayer’s money.

As for the next computer model created by VIMS and UMCES mentioned by Mr. Pluta that shows the filtering capacity of Harris Creek and the removal of nitrogen of 100,000 pounds of nitrogen is a theory not real data. Lisa Kellogg of VIMS clearly states, “Through the model she and her colleagues hope to provide a tool that natural resource agencies could use to gauge the ecological benefits of this and other reef restoration projects”. Where can you find water testing data? I know ShoreRivers does water testing in Harris Creek. On ShoreRivers website, I found data showing nitrogen levels; the data shows Harris Creek was actually going backwards with nitrogen levels rising from .47 in 2013 to .958 in 2014  (see attached HC05), with overall numbers increasing.

Broad Creek, a public harvest area, during those same years was declining in nitrogen levels to .114 (see attached BC04).

Also of importance are high disease levels in restoration sanctuaries. Harris Creek, Tred Avon and Little Choptank River have 97% prevalence of Dermo and the intensity ranges from 3.3 to 4.1 resulting in death of the oyster when this range reaches 5. When oysters die, they re-release nitrogen back into the water. See Table A. Disease Levels at Three Restoration Sanctuaries and Adjacent Open-Harvest Areas from the 2017 Fall Survey.

On Tilghman Wharf, a public oyster bar outside of Harris Creek Sanctuary, had a 10% prevalence of Dermo and the intensity range was 0.2 in 2013 but by 2017 (when the sanctuary was well established), the prevalence rose to 70 with an intensity of 2.2 as the disease spreads to public oyster bar just outside the sanctuary area. See Table 3 – Dermo.

And finally, the Morgan State study (I actually participated in this study as a member of the Oyster Futures project) about increase in crab harvest to offset the economic loss of the oyster harvest. The theory is crabs will feed on the barnacles of the reef.  However, what about when the crab defecates (feces are high in nitrogen) after feeding? When I asked the scientist this question, he seemed perplexed and had not considered the impact. Second, our trotlines get snagged on the stone piles of the reef, so, not many watermen will crab on them. This combined with the loss of crab lays due to aquaculture water column leasing allowed in sanctuaries (i.e., Phillips Wharf Environmental Center and Green Pearl, LLC. leases on Lomax oyster bar in Harris Creek Sanctuary) creates a significant decrease in crab harvest.  And, lastly, what Mr. Pluta and others have failed to report is this study concluded the overall increase to the oyster population would not be significant at all.

So, my question to the citizens of Maryland, after reviewing all this data which proves that sanctuaries are not working, why would we make them permanent?

Jeff Harrison, President
Talbot Watermen Association


Out and About (Sort of): Depression Follow-Up by Howard Freedlander

Amid the music presented during For All Seasons’ ninth annual Heart & Music performed the past weekend at the Oxford Community Center. I harked back to my column last week about medical depression and its debilitating impact on self-worth and mental stability. The show’s message, as intended, struck one particularly powerful note: you are not alone.

As I wrote last week, newspaper and television pundit Michael Gerson, suffering since his 20s from serious depression, made the same point in his guest sermon at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC on Feb. 17 and again during a PBS interview two days later. Help is readily available.

Gerson pointed to family, friends, medical professionals and God as vital sources of support as one copes painfully with the depths of despair, oppressive feelings and destructive thoughts of “no one loves me” and “no one cares.”

It doesn’t matter if you have gained fame and fortune; depression is an affliction that overrides all barriers. Suicides stun us.

Addiction to drugs, alcohol and work do not block the effects of medical depression. They are mere substitutes for beneficial mental health. The afflicted still feel alone, unable to climb that mountain of consistent health and well-being.

Local organizations like For All Seasons and Channel Marker provide professional assistance that enables people to achieve a level of mental health that may have seemed unattainable. They help those suffering from mental disease and emotional distance from family and friends to create lives free of personal destruction and full of healthy productivity.

Perhaps most of all, local mental health organizations provide an invaluable prescription: hope. Without it, depression may seem inescapable, except through addiction and suicide. Michael Gerson recommended another cure: love, both from within and without.

Like others sitting in Oxford Community Center on a rainy Friday night, I found that music, as is often the case, inspires heartfelt and joyous reactions. Of course, that was the legitimate purpose of the “Songs from the Stage, Broadway and Beyond.” Periodic renditions of particular cases handled successfully by For All Seasons and calls for financial support were appropriate.

Local nonprofits, so very important to the health and sustenance of our community, must have financial support if they are to continue serving those in need. As I’ve stated previously in Spy space, a community flourishes or flounders based upon participation in activities requiring generosity of time and money.


Allow me, readers, to veer sharply from depression and local efforts to help those afflicted with this disease to another issue that has proved harmful to the financial health of the Maryland crab industry. And that is the dearth this past summer of H-2B visas to enable foreign workers, mostly Mexicans, to work in the crab processing business in Dorchester County. The loss amounted to 40 percent; three out of four Dorchester County crab processors received no visas

I read in The Star Democrat that U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and First District Congressman Andy Harris are prodding the Department of Homeland Security’s Secretary Kirstjen Nielson to issue enough visas to help American businesses, including the crab houses in Dorchester County. I urge these three Maryland lawmakers to be relentless in their efforts to support local seafood businesses.

I suspect the issue is political and related to the Trump Administration’s immigration policies. That’s a shame. Dorchester County crab processors have sought and failed to recruit American workers. They want to stay in business in an industry important to the Eastern Shore and tasteful to the rest of the country.

As I end this column and acknowledge its disjointed subjects, I join readers in hoping that spring weather is quickly approaching. I well realize that the month of March is an annual tease, offering the prospect of warmth and then bombarding us sometimes with cold temperatures and snow.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

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